In this time of mood stability – a month now! – I’ve been trying to observe what being in between mood states is like. I haven’t been doing a very good job of observing. I keep anticipating the next mood shift to depression or to mania (August is the time of year for a manic episode), instead of focusing on what is happening now, what this mood state in the middle is like. I’m not at a pole; I’m not even trending toward a pole. I’m feeling a range of feelings. In fact I felt depression for a couple days earlier this week, and it passed quickly. I feel anxious now with all the social anxiety of trying to meet new people. The anxiety brought on racing thoughts, which are not a symptom of mania for me, but of anxiety, something I live with every day.
My wise therapist – I have a knack for picking them that way; I’m lucky! – asked me why I haven’t blogged about acceptance of this stable mood state, what it is like, what I’m feeling. He also asked how much uncomfortability I could tolerate to accept it and examine it so that we would know what it was like when I switch, eventually, to another mood state. He also asked me how much I trust myself.
The last time I fully trusted myself was in college, lo! these 25 years ago. I was in the throes of bipolar coming on with mania, hypomania, psychosis and a little depression. No one saw it and thought I should get treatment. I wasn’t in an environment that saw mental illness or sometimes even disbelieved in it entirely. It was a spiritual problem, if recognized as a problem, and all that meant was that a person needed to get right with God, confess sins, and do the right thing. Not a helpful response to a serious mental illness. But I digress.
I was in the throes of bipolar onset in those tender years of 17-20 when I was in college. I ran headlong into jobs, changes in majors, a new life direction, a new worldview, relationships and friendships, and political and religious shifts toward the progressive. I was behaving all the ways young, naïve, energy-driven, immortal people behave. I just had a mental illness on top of it. But I trusted myself. I didn’t second guess what I wanted. I mooned over guys. I debated with friends, knowing my position well. I yearned for the future I was working toward. I made decisions with little thought of consequences. I trusted myself to make good decisions. I didn’t second-guess myself.
That all changed after I got engaged, married, went to seminary, had an internship and then worked as a youth director. I was a pastor that second-guessed all my decisions, from the smallest to the biggest. I felt an imposter in my whole adult life.
I didn’t trust myself during my protracted illness for the last 8 years. I learned – and practiced! – coping skills. I built-in a rhythm and routines into my life. I always took my medication, even when I was severely depressed and suicidal, or when I was manic (and didn’t know it, cuz that’s how mania works…). I went to the hospital when I was suicidal. I expected a lot in return for the efforts I made to change my life for bipolar. I expected to find stability, somewhere in the middle where I felt good and could take on the driving forces to DO something again. Because I was trying so hard, I was disappointed every day that nothing changed. I was at one pole or another, never in the middle experiencing a range of emotions and life experiences.
Now my mood is in the middle, because of medications, or because of the routines and rhythms, or because I expect less of myself (e.g., work, volunteer jobs, socialization). A combination of all three probably, though being on the right cocktail is probably the most effective since I’ve been doing the others For Years! I’m at a place where I should trust myself because I have done all the right things to take care of myself. I can trust myself to continue doing the right things.
But it’s a 25-year-old problem of not trusting myself to make the right decisions. The second guessing I’m doing is that I will slip back into a mood pole for no reason, and there won’t be anything I can do to bring it back. This middle place is so unfamiliar. How do I enjoy it without questioning it every morning when I wake up? How do I find it again if (when???) I slip back into a mood pole?
Join me the next week as I try to unravel what this stability is like and how I can enjoy it, not pressing too hard to take advantage of it, but to lean into it and enjoy it.